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byGethelred©

I first saw her across a crowded room; a high end function, I think it was. She stood out. Long, shoulderblade length black hair; it shimmered in the lighting, not a single hair out of the intended wave. Her skin was alabaster, perfect; the dress descended in waves down her body, but hugged her form, the same shade of iridescent black as her hair. Indeed, the colour did more than just become her; it was her. She was a panther, in that dress; sleek, dangerous, tempting.

As she moved closer, I saw her face; a delicate oval. Her eyes were dark, rarely blinking; her mouth was rarely without a smile. I saw her purse those beautiful lips once though; the motion tantalising, exquisite. I don't believe I have ever wanted anything as I wanted her that night.

She ended up standing next to me, as she did her rounds; she looked me up and down coolly, assessing me. She wasn't aware of my eyes on her, watching her watching me. Predatory, I know, but she was worth it; deserved it. She wasn't there to be objectified; she was there to be adored, a piece of living breathing art, dancing across a masters work. And she knew it; her smile could never be labelled condescending, but it was. Her words were expertly chosen, but were a phenomenal tease. No, this woman wanted someone to prove something; wanted to be seen, underneath the lights and the beauty. But she would not make it easy; oh, never that.

She introduced herself to me, smiling charmingly. I smiled back, a secretive smile; she looked at me oddly, as though she wanted to know what I was thinking. She asked me if we had met before; I told her, no. But I recognise you, she said, her brow furrowing; I told her to think nothing of it. She might have seen me at another such function.

She smiled, and told me that must be it; her mind keeps working. She doesn't leave me for a bit, as we smalltalk. She is, of course, a model; one of the high fashion crowd that can actually be considered beautiful. I don't say as much to her, but I tell her she looks amazing. Her smile becomes cheshire like; ah, now I've got him categorised. I shrug, and break that frame; she never saw me look at her, examine her as she had me, only better. She was a target; I wasn't sure why. The only thing I knew was that she had to come home with me, so this game was absolutely necessary.

I offer her champagne; she accepts gracefully. I ask her a bit more about herself; she puts her hand on my arm. Her fingers trace little figure eights on my wrist.

She is, at the moment, out of work; why, she didn't say. She looked as though she wanted to, but refrained. I placed my hand on her arm, and leaned in.

You must come home with me tonight. Do not drop the charade you wear as a second skin. We will have a number of drinks, then you will collapse. I will carry you out, and drive you to any destination of your choosing. But trust me in this; you will leave here with me, or with others, and I think you know exactly which others I refer to.

She's smart; her face never changes expression. She recognises me, as she draws back; she must've seen a photo. She moves to leave; I take her wrist into my hand. I tell her slowly; you asked me before what I did. I am an assassin, but today is not the day or the time in which I kill you. Trust me.

She nods, and I let go.

We play our parts well; she does not actually drink as much champagne as she seems to. A significant amount ends up in the water feature next to us, a pool that surrounds the room, bathing the windows in blue light. She sighs, and promptly collapses; I move quickly, as I am able to do, and catch her.

I carry her out to my car; it's an audi, but not the top of the range. Indeed, my car stands out at this party because it isn't.

I place her into the passenger seat; she leans against the window as I speed off.

Without moving she asks me if she can stop now. The question had only a trace emphasis; as if she was asking about the weather, or if she wanted a smoke. I told her yes, and she sat up, her eyes on me, watchful.

Why are you taking me, she asks. Why help me, if that's what you're doing.

I don't take my eyes of the steering wheel as I tell her. I lied in the room, before. Today is the day, and tonight is the time. She looks at me silently, debating. She settles for a smile; actually condescending, sarcastic.

Why haven't you killed me yet, then, she asks me. I smile. I'm not sure, I say to her.

Where would you like to go, I ask her then. Where would you go, she responds, if someone told you they were going to kill you?

I was silent after that; where would I go? I had seen mountains, beaches, cliffs uncountable. I had lived, for a time, in Paris and Venice.

I would go home, I tell her.

She nods. Do you know where mine is?

I had already changed direction.

It did not take us long; the house was entirely hers, from her parents. They died a year ago, she tells me, in a car accident. I tell her I am sorry; she lays her hand on my arm, then retracts it.

Her house is pristinely clean. She was a neat freak, always cleaning when she was there; she admits this was the first time she had been there in a year. I tell her I had not seen my home for many years. She asks me where it was; I ignore her.

She is not used to that. She stands fluidly, rising in one movement; feline, erotic. Her eyes smoulders at me, burning. I was polite when you told me you lied. If you have to kill me now, just do it, she says. I smile at her.

She swings, closing her fist mid movement. I step out of the blow's force, and let her hit me; it is so soft as to have been a nonentity. She is faster than I would have given her credit for, beforehand; there was nothing in her file that suggested any martial arts training.

I catch one of her blows when she tires; to her, it seems completely at random. Instead of using the full force of the hold, I twist, giving her just enough to knock her off balance, off her feet.

She looks up at me furiously; I will never forget her eyes then, all dark fire and smouldering hatred.

You have two choices, I say, looming as only a large man can. Huge, dark, a menacing presence at the best of times; I would have loved to have been smaller, less threatening, but I use the gifts given me.

You can help me, I say, here, to set fire to this place. You can shave your head, and eat until you are no longer so thin, until I cannot see the bones of your face. You are to stop using the creams which make your skin so flawless. You are to live hard, so that if anyone were to come looking, they would not see the unique beauty, they would see a scared woman.

Or I can kill you, and do it, all of it, myself.

She looks up at me, and her eyes break open; not crying, but all the feeling is gone. Her facade is cracked, split wide; I hold out my hand, and I help her up.

I walk to the kitchen, holding her. I turn on her gas stove; I walk away, and I shut the door a little.

I walk upstairs, and take four pairs of mens jeans; her fathers, she says. I couple them with teeshirts- mens again- and I take them with me.

I light a candle in her parents room, and take her with me as I walk out.

I give her my keys. She looks at me now curiously, like I am an interesting kind of insect, or a dog that has done for the first time a trick that it wasn't taught. I take her to another town; we hear the noise, as the gas ignites, but we are already too far away.

I stop, at a country town. I get out of the car, and lean down.

You remember everything I told you came with this choice, I ask her. She nods; above and beyond all else, she is not stupid. I leave the keys in the ignition; I tell her, in the glovebox, is an address in Chile. The house is safe, and it is a good place for you.

I walk away, and I do not tell her my name, or why I help her; she looks, and watches me as I leave, an unwelcome shadow leaving just before the dawn.

I break the window to a mazda, and I hotwire the car. I drive to the nearest airport, and to the next job.

***

It is a year later, and I am somewhere else. South Africa is a nice place to be in the summer, but in the winter it is appalling. I was raised in Chile, so I like the heat more than the wind and the chill and the rain.

The man screams, as he runs away from his pursuers; they are the amateurs in this operation. I am the hunter in this, they the hounds, herding this fool out into the open. The worst of this is that they didn't even know it.

I wonder why I am thinking of her, again. She is always there, in my mind, when I take a job. I don't know why I let her go; I don't know why I gave her my home as hers, but I haven't been there for a long time. As with her house, mine had been my parents as well. I hoped she was well; I still see her face in my mind. I would not recognise her, if I saw her now, though; she would look different, very different. But still, I wondered.

I scan the man through the scope, and shoot him through the back of his head. I watch as the thugs behind pause, and collect around the body.

I am grateful for magazine on this sniper, as I take out the rest; witnesses all.

***

Why do I do this, over and over? I had not thought about the why of this, for a long time. I did it as a young man because I was an angry young man, and I needed money and blood. I killed until I became empty, and then I killed because I did not know anything else.

But, as I always did, I thought of her.

She was the fulcrum; she was the change to me, to my why. I killed after her because that is what observers would have expected of me; if I had stopped, they would have known that something has changed, that I was not the man I was before.

But I am not, and thus I wonder how much longer I need do this before I am safe; before she is safe?

***

The sun is hot upon the mountain slope, the ridges that fall, almost prepititiously to the sea. Salt is in the air here, thicker than molasses; to be here is to have the mountain and the sea in you as equals, never vying for attention but still demanding all.

It is so humid; I had forgotten how humid it really is here. I am sweating, but it isn't just the weather. I wonder what she will think, when she sees me again. I wonder, how will she see me? Will I be friend, or foe? I don't really deserve either from her.

The place is different to how it was when I lived here. There are more young people; young men laughing as they kick around a football while young women watch, smiles coating moistened lips. Sex is much the perfume of this place, this day; it coats the city, the continent, as does nothing else. We all crave it, more than others; I have wondered at that. Why do we feel passion so much more than others? Why is it that I don't feel like others of my continent?

I don't know what I want from her, my panther, the girl who I had not seen more than once.

I crest a hill, and see the home that belongs to me, as though through the scope of my sniper. It's empty, and in it's emptiness I feel myself drain away. I wasn't hopeful, nor afraid, but now I'm nothing, absolutely nothing.

The door is locked, and I use my key. There are no signs of brutality, or of pain. You can feel the echoes of pain and death radiating over you, sickening; the colour of a bruise, just moments after the blow. It aches, and turns yellow, before purpling, then blackening and swelling as the blood within it hardens.

I see the paper on the table, and I pick it up:

I do not know your name, nor do I ever expect to. I do not know what to say, either; you gave me what some might equate to a second life, but I am not certain what I think of the gift you gave me.

I am to be married, in the town below. There is a bar, near the market; opposite a fisherman's stall. The man who owns the place, a widower for some years, asked me, and I said yes. He needed someone to take care of his children, and I needed the safety you took from me, and told me I would never have again.

If you read this- hopefully it is you, reading this- I will watch my window, at four in the evening, every night I can. I would like to see you again, even if it is only once.

Thank you.

***

I walk down the hill, slowly. I feel old, as old as I am, which is strange. My hair has long turned grey; I'm not really as fast as I once was. My knees ache from years of movement, from running and jumping and twisting. Fighting and climbing do not a well aged body make.

I am fit, though, and the sun is peaking out, over the market stalls, the buildings casting massive red shadows over the cobblestones and bitumen. I look at the bar, in the market, opposite the fisherman, who was packing up his smelly produce languidly. My eyes look up, at the window, and I see her. Only for an instant, before she is gone.

The door slams open, and she runs outside; she is older, much older. She is much less pretty; her face is lined, smiles and frowns both. She has a spanish tan over her skin, the kind you get from living in Chile or Argentina or Brazil. Her eyes are the same; they shone with anger, and fury, and resentment, and yet with other things that weren't so awful.

She walked up to me, and slapped me, hard. She began to yell at me loudly in spanish; she called me her brother, and took me by the ear. I winced, and followed as she led me inside; I was breathless.

She sat down at the table, and I sat opposite. She looked me up and down.

"The years have not been kind to you."

I nodded. "How have they been, for you?"

She smiled. "Nothing like I expected."

She gestured, and led me to a room. It was tiny, and there was a cot with a baby inside.

"His name is Tony, short for Anthony." She said; it hit me like a blow.

"You gave your child my name?"

She smiled at me wider. "It's a good name for a man and a boy."

"Thank you," I whispered.

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